Curiously absent in the recent and gigantic uptick of eSports enthusiasm in America, are sports video games. League of Legends' world championship sold out Staples Center and drew more viewership than The Masters in 2o13, but games such as Madden, FIFA and NBA 2K have not yet begun to approach that level of attracting spectators.
Despite EA Sports recently reviving the Madden Challenge on a smaller scale and announcing a specific eSports focus, the road to establishing a spot for Madden and other sports games with the League of Legends and DOTA 3′s of the world is still a long one.
Where Are Sports Video Games in the American eSports Explosion?
Curiously absent in the recent and gigantic uptick of eSports enthusiasm in America, are sports video games. League of Legends’ world championship sold out Staples Center and drew more viewership than The Masters in 2o13, but games such as Madden, FIFA and NBA 2K have not yet begun to approach that level of attracting spectators.
You would figure that SPORTS games would be the easiest ones to transform into eSports attractions. Madden specifically, enjoyed a period of massive mainstream appeal in its competitive scene before eSports was even a word, with the Madden Challenge — a huge tour that stopped in all 32 NFL cities to host a massive tournament, and even inspired an ESPN reality show that lasted four seasons. The event eventually had the wind taken out of its sales by less than stellar quality from Madden as a game in the mid-late-aught, and a divide in gamer populations between the Playstation 3 and XBOX 360.
Despite EA Sports recently reviving the Madden Challenge on a smaller scale and announcing a specific eSports focus, the road to establishing a spot for Madden and other sports games with the League of Legends and DOTA 3′s of the world is still a long one. I recently had a chance to speak with Kevin Mamouzette, who goes by KOACH K in the competitive Madden community. Mamouzette owns and runs compete4ever.com, or C4 for short — a New York based operation that hosts some of the largest in-person Madden competitions in the country, as well as online leagues populated by top tournament players.
“Madden’s competitive scene has the potential to explode beyond what anyone thought was possible. As with other eSports genres, though, publisher support is crucial for a thriving competitive scene,” said Mamouzette. “A little more than a decade ago, we had the 32-city format Madden Challenges that really gave a boost to the Madden competitive scene. Since then, EA Sports partnered with MLG and Virgin Gaming for major Madden eSports series, and then we had a period of about three years where there was a lull in initiatives for Madden. Those three years were tough for the scene, but it also presented an opportunity to develop our community on a grass roots level. With a strengthened grass roots base and EA Sports unprecedented new commitment to eSports, the sky is the limit for growing Madden as an eSport as well as the overall sports gaming eSports genre.”
I then asked Mamouzette what he thinks has been preventing Madden and other sports games from climbing the eSports ranks, including the notion that sports games sometimes do not meet the competitive balance level set by real-time strategy and fighting games.
“As a start, I think competitive balance issues in sports video games can be addressed by well thought out rule sets that are practical to enforce,” he said. “One thing we have been seeing more and more of, especially in Madden NFL 16, is a strengthened commitment from the developers at EA Sports to make sure that competitive balance issues are actually patched within the game’s code itself. This type of commitment from EA Sports will definitely help grow the eSports footprint of Madden. Games like League of Legends are created from scratch for eSports purposes, and its creators are committed 100% to patching competitive balance issues within the game code. This can only help to grow a game’s eSports footprint.”
KOACH K believes that returning to the PC arena could also play a vital part in expanding sports gaming’s eSports fanbase. There has not been a PC version of Madden published since 2007.
“I like my shiny, new game every year, but, I think the option of having sports games such as Madden brought back to the PC with a two or three year production cycle, along with it being fully customizable outside of gamep lay and having regular updates for rosters over that cycle has potential. Bringing sports games to PC would also help in growing it’s footprint; everyone owns a computer.”
With streaming services such as Twitch and YouTube’s newer offerings continuing to grow, passionate organizers like Mamouzette and the fact that this generation of consoles is the first to have built-in streaming capability, the door for Madden, FIFA and NBA 2K to become global eSports phenomenons has never been more wide open.